Family awarded more than $30 million after mother’s death at Memphis nursing home

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Martha Jane Pierce moved into Allenbrooke Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center after her dementia just became too much for her family to handle.

Her husband of 60 years soon followed.

According to the family's attorney, Cameron Jehl, for a woman in her 80s, even with progressing dementia, she was doing okay.

"She could walk some, she didn't have any skin breakdowns," Jehl told WREG.

He said that didn't last long.

According to Jehl, Mrs. Pierce got worse and had to make several trips to and from the hospital.

Jehl said, "While she was in the nursing home she suffered from malnutrition, dehydration and just a bunch of different problems."

He said the worst were the pressure sores.

WREG saw a picture revealing just how bad the wounds were on Mrs. Pierce's foot.

Jehl said the pressure sores were bone deep.

"They were infected with the same bacteria that's found in feces, and wound up having to have her leg amputated as a result."

Mrs. Pierce died at Allenbrooke in 2009.

She was 82-years-old.

Her family sued the nursing home, its parent company and several other executives a year later.

Last week, after years of delays, a jury ruled in their favor and returned a verdict with damages worth more than $30 million.

The lawsuit alleged many of the problems at the nursing home were due to a lack of staffing.

A federal government website that grades nursing homes gives Allenbrooke two stars overall, with one in staffing.

Jehl said the Southeast Memphis nursing home also tried to cover up its staffing problems.

"We saw individuals that would document providing care to Mrs. Pierce after she was dead."

An attorney for the nursing home told WREG Mrs. Pierce's injuries resulted from "serious and chronic medical conditions...not negligence on the part of caregivers."

Craig Conley of Baker Donelson also said the caregivers "promote health, safety and welfare of residents."

Mrs. Pierce's family wasn't ready to talk on camera, but Jehl said the message to the nursing home is clear.

"Hopefully this award will result in having them change the way they do business."

Conley added "In addition, the damages awarded, which exceed any reasonable range of damages for the injuries claimed based upon verdicts issued across the country for similar injuries, demonstrates that the jury failed to follow the legal guidelines submitted to them to guide their deliberations."

He said they plan to challenge the legal basis for the verdict through additional motions and if necessary, on appeal.